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Electrocardiogram: Why do I need an EKG?

If your doctor is concerned that you have suffered heart damage or have an abnormal heart rate, he or she may ask you to undergo an electrocardiogram – also called EKG.

What is EKG?

Electrocardiograms measure the heart’s electrical rhythm over a period of time. Many times it’s the first test a doctor may order when trying to diagnose a heart problem.

Doctors use this test to measure the heart’s rate and how regular its beats are. Electrocardiograms can also be used to show the electrical conduction through the heart’s chambers, and this can be helpful in determining whether the heart muscle has been damaged.

“It can tell us if your heart beat is regular, or irregular. It can tell us if you have any arrhythmias –which are also known as irregular heart beats,” said Dr. Joseph Imsais, an ADC cardiologist. “It can also give us clues if there is any history of heart attack – some of which may not have any symptoms.”

Conditions that may prompt an EKG include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Palpitations
  • Irregular heart beats

“Anybody with risk factors; anybody over the age of 50 — whether they’re male or female — anybody with a smoking history; anybody with a history of diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, or early family history of heart disease or arrhythmias will benefit from an electrocardiogram.”

How the test works

Nurse applying screening probes to patient for EKG

Dr. Imsais says electrocardiograms take only 5 minutes and they are painless. They can also be done in an exam room, so they’re convenient.

Patients will be asked to remove their shirt and roll up their pants. Then probes are placed on the body and connected to the screening equipment. The EKG measures the heart rate, and a doctor reviews the results.

If your doctor detects an abnormality, he or she may recommend you follow up with a cardiologist.